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As foster parents, Derminers say love is multiplied, not divided

Erin Derminer cuddles one of the infants for whom she and husband Steve have provided foster care over the past three years. MARRICK PHOTOGRAPHY

Erin and Steve Derminer recently celebrated their third anniversary – not of their wedding, but as foster parents. In that time, they’ve cared for seven infants and toddlers age two and younger in the Creswell home they share with their elementary school-aged sons, Truman and Harrison.
”We joke that we’re perpetually in the baby stage now,” said Erin, whose husband said it was precisely her desire for more children that started them on this incredible journey: ”Becoming foster parents, this is a ‘compromise’ position,” Steve said.
The couple focuses on infants so as not to disrupt the birth-order dynamic in their own family. ”Our sons are two years apart, but they’re truly best friends,” Erin said. ”We don’t want to bring in a child who’s older than them, or between them in age.”
No sibling groups, either: ”We focus on one child at a time; we have to remember that our boys need lots of attention, too,” Erin said.
But fostering is very much a family affair for the Derminers. ”The boys love it; they’re so proud of every little thing the babies do, every milestone,” Erin said. ”It’s all just very natural and normal to them. The empathy they’ve naturally gained from this is so important – and it’s been huge for us, seeing our youngest in the ‘big brother’ role.”
They began fostering when their youngest was just four, so the Derminers have worked to help the boys understand why the babies come and go, and why they are not living with their own families.
”We’ve always been super open, in an age-appropriate way, about why the babies are in foster care,” Erin said. ”And when a baby moves on it’s always emotional for all of us, but at the same time it’s rewarding because you’ve seen their parents fighting to get well, get treatment, get stable housing and create a stable family.”
”You’re watching a child gradually bond with their mom and go back into a safe, stable environment,” Steve added.
It’s also rewarding knowing you’ve made a real difference – sometimes a life-and-death difference – for a child. One medically fragile infant came to them from the hospital, seriously underweight; failing to thrive because of abuse/neglect, she required feeding every two hours around the clock and weekly weight checks by a pediatrician.
”It can be quite intense,” Erin said.
In the Derminers’ home, the baby girl began to eat more willingly, grow and ultimately thrive, until one day, ”the pediatrician looked at me and said, ‘You know you guys saved her life, right?’” Erin related. ”I just teared up. You don’t even think of it like that – you’re just doing what you do, every day.”
Their current 14-month-old foster son has been with them just over a year – ”our longest placement so far,” noted Erin, who chooses to get to know and form bonds, whenever possible, with their foster children’s parents.

”Once I know the situation is 100 percent okay, my kids come with me to drop the little ones off for visits, and I invited (our foster son)’s mom to his first birthday party at My Boys (Pizza),” Erin said.
With about 1,200 children in foster care in Lane County and only about 200 non-relative homes available, there is a desperate need for more, similarly openhearted foster parents.
”There’s an incredible need for safe, loving, non-relative foster homes, and those numbers show it,” Erin said. ”Some people are asked to take six to eight kids because they have nowhere to go.”
The Secretary of State’s audit of the Oregon Department of Human Services’ child welfare program, published Jan. 31, highlighted that urgency, citing inadequate budgets, overburdened caseworkers, and calling for concerted efforts to recruit and retain more foster parents.
The Derminers don’t sugarcoat the challenges: ”These kids have some pretty major hurdles to get over and working with the State is not the easiest thing, but it comes down to the fact that these babies are worth every second of it – they’re worth everything,” Erin said.
Steve recalls the first day his current foster son stood up in his crib, calling him ”Dada” as he scooped him up and headed downstairs to make breakfast.
”I think everyone deserves to feel that way in the morning – to get those same wonderful moments,” he said.
Yes, it can be hard when the child inevitably moves on, back to their parents or to another foster home. But, ”We get to be there for those firsts: their first smile, their first tooth, their first step – and to know they’re safe and loved in our family,” Erin said.
”You learn to tune out what goes on outside of that,” Steve said.
Networking with other foster parents is also rewarding: ”It’s a really cool community to be part of – a lot of amazing people,” Erin said.
As one of the few local families providing foster care, the Derminers encourage others to join them in that vital, heartwarming work of nurturing and reuniting once-abused or neglected children with loving, more capable parents – or, occasionally, preparing them to be welcomed and loved by an adoptive family.
”The fact that you know you have to say goodbye shouldn’t scare you away,” Erin said. That heart-wrenching reality can even be a blessing: ”It’s truly helped me and forced me to live in the moment, to realize that we’re not in control of what the future holds for any of our children,” she said.
She wears a bracelet bearing the phrase, ”Live in the Moment” as a reminder of what fostering – and her own sons’ response to it – has taught her.
”As adults we can be more closed off, afraid of getting our hearts broken; but there’s just such a loving, natural way my boys have embraced these babies,” she said. ”The question I’m asked most often is, ‘How can you give these babies away?’ But your heart gets filled again with the next one.”
And, instead of each child ”breaking off” a piece of your heart when they move on, ”Your heart just grows bigger and bigger,” Erin said. ”Every single one of those babies is a piece of our hearts, until the day our hearts stop beating.”

To learn more about becoming a foster parent, resources for foster parents, other ways you can help prevent child abuse and neglect, and more, see the Sidebar accompanying this article.

Foster Care and Child Abuse Prevention
Information and Resources:

How to Become a Foster Parent:
https://goo.gl/PQYXCT

State of Oregon Foster Parent Resources:
https://goo.gl/tCU6ZW

Oregon Foster Parent Association – Resources:
https://goo.gl/mrph43

State of Oregon Foster Care:
https://goo.gl/EiNDrR

Oregon Secretary of State’s audit of the Department of Human Services Child Welfare program (January 31, 2018):
https://goo.gl/KEDQeT

Child abuse and neglect data, publications and reports:
https://goo.gl/5Q3qbP

Family Relief Nursery – Cottage Grove:
https://goo.gl/q3Dj6T

90by30: Reduce Child Abuse in Oregon by 90 percent by 2030:
https://goo.gl/WfC9nZ

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates):
https://goo.gl/ibb5ri